Healthy Living in the North

Ditching the can opener: Tools, services, and tips to make healthy, homemade meals accessible

This article was co-authored by Rebecca Larson, registered dietitian, and Valerie Pagdin, occupational therapist.


Person cutting apple with one hand.

A rocker knife and cutting board with pins and suction cups makes cutting fruits and vegetables safe and accessible.

When you have a disability, making healthy meals at home can present additional challenges. Fatigue and difficulty with jars and utensils can create barriers to cooking. But there are ways to make cooking a bit easier so that everyone can enjoy healthy, homemade meals:

  • Buy frozen or pre-cut vegetables or fruit so that the preparation is already done.
  • Look for items that don’t require a can opener. Containers with screw tops (like some fruit and peanut butter) or those that are in pouches (yogurt or tuna) are easier to open.
  • Get your milk in a jug. Two litre plastic jugs with handles are easier to hold and pour than a milk carton.
  • Buy cheese and bread that are pre-sliced or have the deli or bakery slice them for you.

There are also many tools that can help you maintain your independence in shopping and cooking tasks. Using utensils with larger handles, cutting boards with suction cups to hold them to the countertop, or a mobility device to help you walk or carry items more easily can make a big difference in your ability to buy what you want and cook it the way you like it. An occupational therapist can assess your needs and help you find solutions that work for you in the kitchen. Ask your physician or primary care provider for a referral to an occupational therapist.

Accessible eating utensils.

Contact an occupational therapist to learn more about tools to make homemade meals more accessible – tools like weighted spoons, high-rimmed plates, and tremor spoons.

If transportation is a challenge, many grocery stores and service groups have grocery delivery options. Meals on Wheels is available in many communities and can provide meals if meal preparation is difficult or if you need a break. Food boxes, which contain fresh vegetables delivered on a regular basis, are available in some communities and may be an option to consider. Your local home and community care department can connect you to these programs.

If you need additional suggestions or help to make homemade meals more accessible, contact HealthLink BC Dietitian Services by dialling 8-1-1.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Making your own baby food

Solid foods for babies on a plate.

At about six months old, your baby may be ready for solid foods. Some easy prep will give your baby lots of textures and options to explore! Trying new foods with your baby is a time of exploration and fun. Enjoy the experience!

Many parents are interested in making their own baby food. Why? Primarily, it’s cheaper than buying prepared baby foods and is easy to do. You also have full control over what your baby is eating and you can introduce them to the foods your family eats. At about six months old, your baby will be ready for solid foods.

When offering your baby food:

  • Start by offering food a couple times a day. By the time your baby is close to nine months, they should be eating 2-3 meals a day with 1-2 snacks.
  • To begin, your baby will only eat about a teaspoon of food at a time, so don’t make too much baby food at once.
  • Offer your baby a variety of textures including ground, mashed, soft foods and finger foods.
  • Offer an iron rich food (meat and alternatives or infant cereal) daily.
  • Whenever possible, eat with your baby. They learn from modelling your behaviour.

Baby food prep

  • Some foods like yogurt, rice, and pasta require very little or no prep to make them into baby food. You can cut bread into strips and grate cheese to make them the right size for your baby to hold or pick up.
  • Vegetables: Wash and peel your vegetables, removing any seeds. Chop the vegetable into small pieces and steam over boiling water until soft. Put the cooked vegetable in a bowl with a little water and mash with a fork.
  • Fruit: Pick soft, ripe fruit. Wash and peel the fruit; remove any pits or large seeds. Cut into pieces. Soft fruits like banana and peaches can be mashed with a fork. For firm fruit, before mashing, take the pieces and boil in a small amount of water until soft.
  • Meat & Alternatives: Meats like beef, turkey, wild game, and others should be well cooked and then ground, finely minced, or shredded. Fish can be baked or poached; skin and bones must be removed before mashing with a fork. Soft beans, lentils, and eggs can be mashed with a fork after cooking. A little water might need to be added to moisten.

Trying new foods with your baby is a time of exploration and fun. Enjoy the experience!

For more information visit HealthLink BC.


This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about child health – below!

 

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Broccoli salad – a versatile recipe!

Broccoli salad

Broccoli salad is easy and versatile! Don’t be afraid to experiment with this recipe – that’s half the fun in cooking!

This long weekend, you may be going to a celebration in the park or camping (like I am!), but no matter what you are doing, you will likely be spending some quality time with friends and family. These events often revolve around food.

Are you are looking for a versatile and easy salad to include in your menu? Look no further than the broccoli salad!

Broccoli salads come in a variety of types and flavours. Maybe you have a favourite? To get you started this long weekend, I’ve included a recipe for you below. However, I’ve tweaked this recipe slightly. The original recipe called for ½ lb of bacon; that’s a lot of bacon! So, in the recipe below, I’ve cut that back. Recipes like this one allow you to get creative! Don’t have green onions? Fine, skip them (I did). Have extra cherry tomatoes in the fridge? Add them in! Don’t be afraid to experiment, that’s half the fun in cooking!

Broccoli Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches of broccoli
  • 2 cups of grapes, cut into halves
  • 5 slices of cooked bacon
  • ½ cup celery
  • 3 green onions, diced

Dressing:

  • 1 cup salad dressing
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar

Instructions

  1. Chop the broccoli into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Slice the celery into small pieces.
  3. Crumble or slice the bacon.
  4. Combine the broccoli, celery, grapes, onion and bacon in a large bowl.
  5. In a small bowl, mix the salad dressing, sugar, and vinegar together well.
  6. Pour the dressing on the salad and mix well. Refrigerate until serving.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Quinoa, have you tried it?

Quinoa and peas

Quinoa is easy, versatile, and packs a nutritional punch! Don’t be intimidated by this relatively new ingredient!

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is one of those foods that many of us had never heard of just a few years ago but now, we see it everywhere! In talking to people, I find there are many who aren’t sure what to do with quinoa or how to cook it.

Quinoa is very versatile, easy to prepare, and delicious; it can be eaten either hot or cold. You can use quinoa to make a hot cereal dish in the morning, use it as a side dish, use it in soups or salads, or make it the base of stews or chili. One of the big benefits of quinoa is that it cooks a lot quicker than other whole grains like brown rice, so it can be a great choice for those time-crunched days.

So, what is quinoa and what are its benefits?

Quinoa is native to South America and is a seed, although we generally use it like a grain in cooking. Quinoa is a good source of fibre, folate, protein, phosphorus, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese. Quinoa comes in white, red, and black varieties and the cooking time varies slightly between the varieties. It has a slightly nutty taste but is overall mild. I love quinoa for its ease of cooking and use it regularly!

Try this quinoa recipe to make a tasty side dish. Leftovers can easily be stored in the fridge for a couple days. They also freeze well for use later.

Quinoa with Peas

Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter/margarine
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¾ cup frozen peas
  • 1 tbsp parsley

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the quinoa and cook 2 minutes until toasted.
  2. Pour in the chicken broth and add the onion, garlic, thyme and pepper. Cover and let come to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, add in the frozen peas. Re-cover; reduce heat to medium-low.
  4. Continue simmering until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed the chicken stock, approximately 15-20 minutes.
  5. Stir in the parsley and enjoy.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Nutritious and delicious Easter traditions

Child picking up coloured eggs.

Include non-food items in your Easter baskets and egg hunts to add variety this year! Items like stickers, colouring books, or stuffed animals can make great gifts, or include items that will get you and your family physically active like skipping ropes, hula hoops, or passes to the local pool or skating rink.

As a registered dietitian, I get asked questions on a daily basis about food and nutrition. Easter – filled with celebrations, Easter egg hunts, family, and friends – is often a time of sharing traditions, which often involves food. Holiday meals have great potential to be both nutritious and delicious!

A meal of ham or turkey, vegetables, buns or stuffing, and dessert has a good chance of having 3-4 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide, making it a nutritionally balanced meal.

There many ways to make your Easter meal even more nutritious, such as:

  • offering sweet potatoes or yams, as well as potatoes;
  • including colourful veggies, like carrots, brussel sprouts, and beets;
  • serving up something green like asparagus or a simple green leafy salad;
  • choosing whole wheat bread for your stuffing, and adding cranberries or chopped apples, walnuts, and finely chopped carrots and celery; and
  • considering a dessert that includes fruit and/or dairy, such as a fruit crumble or a milk-based pudding.

Adults may worry about how much they eat at these celebrations. Healthy eating is not just about one meal or one day. Rather, it’s about your overall approach to eating. On the day of the celebrations, it can be helpful to continue with your regular meal and snack pattern, so that you can listen to your hunger and fullness cues. Buffet style meals can often leave you feeling overfull from wanting to try a little bit of everything. Instead, survey your options, and choose those things you really want to try. You can always come back for more if you are still hungry. Take your time during holiday meals – eat slowly, and enjoy the time with family and friends. Remember that the holidays are about the whole experience – enjoy the meal, the company, and the memories made.

What about the treats and chocolate?

Easter egg hunts for the kids often involve searching for chocolate and candy treats. And while treats are definitely a part of traditions and a healthy approach to eating, sometimes it can be easy for everyone to overindulge in those treats. Include non-food items in your Easter baskets and egg hunts to add variety – they are just as fun as the chocolates and candy. Things like stickers, colouring books, or stuffed animals can make great gifts, or include items that will get you and your family physically active like skipping ropes, hula hoops, or passes to the local pool or skating rink.

What are your nutritious, delicious, and healthy Easter traditions? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: The humble but nutritious squash

This time of year I find myself turning to comfort foods. Perhaps it’s the cold weather or maybe it’s the darker days, but I find myself turning more to casseroles and stews, rather than salads and sandwiches.

Stuffed squash on a plate

For Rebecca, stuffed acorn squash is a go-to comfort recipe for the winter. What healthy recipes do you turn to during our winter months?

Today, I want to share one of my comfort recipes that my daughter and I love! My daughter loves being able to eat this dish right out of the squash shell. Try it with your kids and I’m sure they’ll love it, too!

Winter squash come in a number of varieties and are widely available in the grocery store this time of year. They’re a great, versatile vegetable that is quite shelf-stable, lasting months if kept in a cool spot. Squash are a nutrition powerhouse, too. Most are very high in vitamin A, fibre, potassium and magnesium. Most commonly, squash are used in soups, stuffed, mashed as a side dish, or used in pie (mmm, pumpkin!).

Beef-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home.

Yields 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 small acorn squash
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ lb (500 g) ground beef
  • 2 tbsp chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp celery*
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground sage
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup cooked rice
  • ¼ cup cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Cut squash in half and remove seeds and membranes. Place squash cut side down in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add water and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 F for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserts into the flesh easily.
  2. Meanwhile, cook beef, onion and celery over medium heat in a saucepan until the beef is no longer pink. Stir in flour, salt and sage until well blended. Add milk and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Stir in rice.
  3. Transfer squash to a baking sheet and place flesh side up. Fill cavity with meat mixture. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven; sprinkle with cheese and bake for 3-5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

*I didn’t have celery, so I used red pepper instead.

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Keeping lunches fun for back to school

Two kids and two adults packing lunch in the kitchen

If your kids help to pack their own lunch or help with the grocery shopping, they’re much more likely to eat it! Mix and match protein, fruit and vegetables, a carbohydrate, and some fat for a great, nutritious lunch.

Whether you love having your kids home for summer or are looking forward to the start of school, most parents find making lunches a bit of a chore. Without fresh ideas, lunches can get a bit repetitive and pretty soon your child is bringing home the majority of what you sent with them.

So what can you do?

First, involve your child in making their lunch! You are likely to get more buy-in and your kids are more likely to eat their lunch if they help with making it or with the grocery shopping for the ingredients.

Making sure you have everything on hand saves a lot of time, too. You may need ice packs to keep items cold, enough reusable containers for the foods you want to send, and a water bottle for sending water to drink. If you have extra food at supper, packing it up into lunch-sized portions right after supper saves time and makes lunch prep easy!

Lunch kit with tomatos, egg, water bottle, plum, granola bar, and yogurt.

Rebecca’s lunch includes cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, plum, granola bar, and more! What about yours? Don’t forget your water bottle, ice pack, and containers!

Need some inspiration for ideas? Here are some tried and true ideas to mix and match.

  • Sandwich, wrap, roti or pita stuffed with meat, cheese, egg, tuna, peanut butter*, jam, vegetables and/or hummus.
  • Chili, stew, perogies, soup, samosas, pasta salad
  • Dinner leftovers (look for a meat (chicken, fish, pork) or alternative; vegetable; and grain, potato, or pasta)
  • Waffles/pancakes or muffin
  • Cereal and milk
  • Quiche; scrambled or hard-boiled eggs
  • Cracker and cheese; tortilla
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Kebabs (meat, cheese, vegetable)

If you base a lunch around including a source of protein, a fruit and/or vegetable, a carbohydrate, and some fat, you will have made a great, nutritious lunch!

For school snack ideas visit Nutrition 411.

*Due to allergies, some schools do not allow peanut butter. Alternatives such as Wowbutter® may be allowed.

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Sports drinks: To drink or not to drink?

Pitcher of homemade sports drink.

Sports drinks are only recommended for very specific purposes. When you are being active this year, go with water! If your situation requires a sports drink, try making your own with Rebecca’s recipe!

As the days warm and the trees turn green, more and more of us are starting our summer activities. For some of us, that includes things like running, cycling, soccer, football, and other sports. I also see more people drinking sports drinks at this time of year. When should we drink these? When should we not?

The primary purpose of sports drinks is to replace water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium) that are lost when we exercise vigorously for a prolonged length of time. You don’t need a sports drink unless you are a heavy sweater or you are working out for a long time in the heat. Think marathon runner or construction worker on a hot roof all day!

So what should you drink after being active this spring or summer? Water is the best choice!

What’s wrong with sports drinks? They contain a lot of sugar and salt! Powerade® and Gatorade® contain approximately 14 tsp of sugar in their regular 946 ml containers and approximately 400 mg of salt. That’s a lot of extra calories and salt that you don’t need.

So what should we do when engaging in sports? First, drink water before you start! Afterwards, have a snack with some carbs and protein to refuel and repair your muscles. Try some chocolate milk, peanut butter and a banana, or some tuna and crackers.

If you’re going to use sports drinks for vigorous exercise or during periods when you are feeling unwell, try making your own sports drinks!

Nancy Clark’s Homemade Sports Drink

Recipe courtesy of Nancy Clark, RD

Yield: 1 quart (approximately 1 litre)

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • ¼ cup orange juice (not concentrate) plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 ½ cups cold water

Instructions:

  1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.
  2. Add the juice and the remaining water; chill.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Cooking for one

Omelette with toppings on a plate.

Cooking for one can be easy, healthy, and fun! Registered dietitian Rebecca suggests batch cooking, using convenience foods (like frozen veggies), sharing a potluck, and expanding your horizons!

I see quite a few people in my office who, for various reasons, live alone. Many say that they either don’t have enough time to cook or that it’s not worth it to cook for one person. I always tell my clients that they are worth it!

As the number of single-person households increases, this becomes an even more important issue. Here are a few tips to make it easier when cooking for one:

  • Batch cook. Many foods can be cooked in big batches and then frozen for those days when you are rushed for time or don’t feel like cooking. Foods that freeze well include lasagna, chili, soup, and stews.
  • Use convenience foods to make simple meals. For example, frozen vegetables can be used to make a stir fry and fresh, pre-cut vegetables can be used to make a soup.
  • Find companions. Bulk cook or share a potluck dinner with friends. We tend to eat better when eating with family or friends.
  • Expand your horizons. Think outside of the box for supper. Sandwiches, beans with toast and fruit, or an omelette can be a healthy, quick meal.

Are you cooking for one? Try the easy omelette recipe below, which has lots of room to customize and add food groups!

Cutting board with onions, cheese, and tomatoes.

Who says omelettes are just a breakfast food? With limitless topping options, omelettes can be part of an easy, balanced, and nutritious dinner!

Omelette

Ingredients:

  •  2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt & pepper
  • Toppings (e.g., vegetables, meat, cheese, etc.), cut into small pieces
  • Oil

Instructions:

  1. Crack two eggs into a small bowl and add a sprinkle of pepper and salt to taste. Beat eggs until well mixed.
  2. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat until warm. If frying pan is not non-stick, add a small amount of oil to pan. When warm, add eggs to pan. When eggs have begun to solidify around the edges, flip over and remove from heat.
  3. If using cheese, cover entire surface of omelette with cheese. Place the rest of your toppings on half of the omelette and then fold the other side over the toppings and remove from pan.
  4. Serve with salsa and toast, if desired. Enjoy.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Foodie Friday: Grow your own

Rebecca's daughter waters the garden at their home.

Rebecca’s daughter waters the garden at their home.

As the days continue to get warmer and we spend more time outside, my thoughts always turn to gardening. I love watching the tiny seeds I plant turn into something green and then, with luck, something edible. After a crazy day of work, I find gardening to be a huge de-stresser – whether I’m pulling weeds or just sticking my fingers in the dirt, my stresses melt away. Gardening has some great health benefits and is a fun activity to do as a family as well. My daughter’s favorite activity is watering!

Gardening has the following great benefits:

  • The food is local and you know exactly how fresh it is.
  • It tastes great.
  • It can be cheaper.
  • It is a source of physical activity.
  • It teaches your children where food comes from.

Some vegetables that grow well in our climate without a greenhouse include: potatoes, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans, beets, radishes, zucchini, cucumber, turnips, and parsnips.

If you have leftover zucchini, here are some ways to use it up:

BBQ:

Turn your BBQ on to medium heat. Take a small zucchini and cut it in half lengthwise. Brush olive oil on the zucchini and then sprinkle with herbs such as oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper, etc. Grill the zucchini for four minutes on each side or until a fork goes in easily.

Stir fry:

Because zucchini cooks quickly, it can be cut into small pieces or rounds and added to a stir fry.

Make relish:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp mustard seed
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 zucchini (~12 oz), finely diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Instructions:

  1. In a saucepan combine the oil, onion, mustard seed, turmeric, salt pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using) over medium heat, stirring often until the onion softens (about 6 minutes).
  2. Stir in zucchini, red bell pepper, brown sugar, and vinegar and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in ½ cup of water and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes until the zucchini is tender.
  5. Whisk cornstarch with 1tbsp of water and add to the mixture.
  6. Cook, stirring until the mixture thickens.
  7. Pour into an airtight container and let cool.
  8. Store in the fridge up to 2 weeks.

What are some of your favourite things to grow in your garden and how do you like to serve them?

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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